How to rearrange furniture before hosting a crowd

For a breezy hosting experience

three image split of festive decorations
(Image credit: Future)

December is the month of hosting. Thanksgiving was just the start, but with Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year's gatherings all taking pride of place in the calendar, our homes are suddenly filled with friends and loved ones, and there will always be one left grappling for a seat or a place to put down the eggnog – just for a moment.

You might have avoided all of the Christmas decorating mistakes known to us, but the quick arrival of the holidays leaves little time to renovate just before guests arrive, so how should you shuffle your furniture for hosting a crowd? 

We asked the experts how they usually approach it.

How to rearrange furniture before hosting a crowd

How you need to arrange furniture will depend on how big your space is, how it is filled, furniture-wise, and of course, how many guests you are expecting. Even still, this is what experts recommend we be considerate of when setting up our space for a beautiful holiday season:

1. Maximize comfort (and seating)

Christmas decorating ideas

(Image credit: Future / Simon Bevan)

There are no surprises here, the reason that we want to reshuffle furniture in the first place will be to improve the flow of your home to make hosting far breezier and more enjoyable.

'Preparing your home for holiday hosting should involve a thoughtful orchestration of furniture rearrangement,' explains designer Jennifer Davis

'The rearrangement isn't just about aesthetics, it can also be a strategic maneuver to enhance the entire hosting experience. One primary goal is to create a captivating focal point that draws the eye and sparks the festive spirit. This might involve repositioning seating to center around a beautifully decorated fireplace or a Christmas tree.'

You want to think about where people will rest, linger a little, or amble towards. 'Additionally, rearranging furniture enables the maximization of seating areas. As friends and family gather, ensuring everyone has a comfortable place to sit and enjoy the festivities becomes essential.'

Jennifer Davis
Jennifer Davis

Jennifer fell in love with design at a young age and has been working in the industry for over 25 years. She has developed an eye for detail and a talent for creating timeless designs. Jennifer offers a balance of creativity and forward-thinking with a structured, organized, and detailed mentality. Jennifer is driven by her deep passion for design while curating an exceptional client journey, ensuring pure delight from the very beginning to the end.

2. Take away what will hinder flow

Close up of gold drinks trolley dressed with foliage, candles, lamps and drinksware

(Image credit: Future | SARAH KAYE REPRESENTATION LTD | Photography by Polly Wreford, styling by Sally Denning)

As easy as it is to think that pushing everything out to the side, and revealing floor space will solve elbow bumps and canapés on the floor, there is a right way to go about it. Consider how many you are hosting, if people will arrive at different times, where guests might flock to, and how to free up pathways in a visually appealing manner.

'It often becomes necessary to rearrange furniture to accommodate hosting duties, especially during the holiday season when any extra space is taken up by temporary decorations. Focus on the flow of your guests around the furniture, and from room to room,' says Interior designer Bethany Adams.

Taking away furniture that doesn't serve and that will hinder flow is key: 'Whenever I host I anticipate the need for easy circulation around a home, rearranging furniture as needed,' says interior designer Glenn Gissler. 'I often remove the dining chairs to both reduce furniture clutter and make room to circulate around a buffet on the table.

'I try to make the room look as functional as possible without destroying the beautiful balance I have worked so hard to achieve.'

You need to recognize when things are needed, and when they are not. Though they may be decorative throughout the rest of the year, if there is a chance they are more of a hindrance to the space when it is at capacity, it needs a holiday relocation. 'Work to eliminate any chance of a stubbed toe or cracked shin with the furniture, and any potential bottlenecks of people,' adds Adams. 'If you have a plethora of tiny, tippy drinks tables (guilty!), take these out of the main pathway as you are guaranteed a spilled cocktail otherwise.'

Bethany Adams
Bethany Adams

Bethany Adams has over 15 years of experience designing and project-managing high-end residential projects all over the US. She started her design firm in Louisville in 2015 and before worked for several designers and architects over the course of a ten-year career in Chicago.

Glenn Gissler
Glenn Gissler

Glenn Gissler is the President and sole proprietor of Glenn Gissler Design, Inc., an award-winning Manhattan-based design firm established in 1987.  His work is stylistically diverse, reflecting his understanding of home, office and sales environments suited for a creative and accomplished clientele.

3. Create cozy areas for laughter and chit-chat

How to decorate a Christmas tree

(Image credit: Future)

Just as grouping serves aesthetically when arranging a coffee table or decorating a mantel, creating dedicated areas for people to circulate around together can be a welcoming and visually appealing feature in your home for the holidays. 

'When hosting a crowd, you want your space to be welcoming. Arrange your furniture to create cozy areas where people can sit and chat,' says interior designer, Soledad Alzaga. 

Use furniture to anchor these spots by all means, but prioritize pieces that serve dual function to maximize space further: 'Make sure there's enough room to move around without bumping into furniture. Choose furniture that can do double duty, like ottomans that can be extra seats and small side tables where people can set down their drink or plate of food,' adds Alzaga.

Soledad Alzaga
Soledad Alzaga

San Francisco-based Interior designer Soledad Alzaga has worked on designs projects in San Francisco, Sonoma, Atherton, New York, Martha's Vineyard, Los Angeles, Mexico and Argentina.

4. Designate dining spots

Table laid for dinner with lit candles, Christmas crackers and a large central lamp above.

(Image credit: Future)

As well as conversation, when guests come over for the holidays, they are (politely) expecting gorgeously crafted cocktails and a feast.

'Set up a place for a buffet and bar area where people can serve themselves and make sure there is plenty of room to make it easy to get to food and drinks,' adds Alzaga. As hosts, we want to make it clear where this magic will happen.

'Practical considerations, like establishing designated buffet or bar areas, are also a big part of the spatial planning,' highlights Davis. 'Clearing and repositioning furniture to accommodate food stations ensures that refreshments are easily accessible to guests, facilitating a smooth flow for dining and socializing.' Decide how guests will be served, or serve themselves, and pave the way to these spots so that visitors will naturally gravitate to them, and have space to linger comfortably. After all, there is no better time to discuss the veins of a blue cheese than over the holidays.

5. Keep spaces connected using color, nature, and lighting

Festive living room with fireplace dressed in foliage

(Image credit: Future | SARAH KAYE REPRESENTATION LTD | Photography by Polly Wreford, styling by Sally Denning)

No matter how big or small your overall party size may be, guests will still naturally form groups. To keep everyone a little more connected and to evoke a sense of cohesiveness within the space too, inject color, greenery, and more light where you can. 

'Transforming a flat and uninspiring space into an energetic and inviting haven requires thoughtful consideration of color, furniture placement, and overall design. By embracing dynamic colors, arranging furniture strategically, incorporating statement pieces, playing with lighting, and bringing the outdoors inside, you can create a space that not only looks vibrant but also radiates positive energy,' says Niko Rasides, Design director of Nicholas Anthony.

'Experiment with a mix of complementary and contrasting colors to create visual interest; incorporating lively patterns and textures to add depth.

'Consider bold accent walls, vibrant furniture, or lively accessories to inject personality and excitement into the room.'

Rasides notes that a bright color palette that is reflective of your personal style is a must, as is weaving in grounding elements like natural wood furniture, stone accents, and low maintenance indoor plants that can even work as centerpieces on tabletops.

'The presence of greenery not only adds a pop of color but also promotes a sense of vitality and freshness.'

Adding natural elements to your space will soften the look of furniture, and anything that adds to the aesthetic of the room will double up as a little entertainment for guests too: 'Introducing bold and eye-catching furniture or decor elements that serve as focal points in the room such as a vibrant sofa, an intricately designed coffee table, or a unique piece of artwork not only adds visual interest but also serves as conversation starters.' 

When it comes to lighting, you want a cozy glow that feels welcoming, especially in the evening and in spaces that lack natural light. Combine pendants with string lighting, floor lamps, and more statement pieces for interest. 'Consider smart lighting options that allow you to adjust the intensity and adding accent lighting to create a dynamic and layered effect. Natural light is especially powerful, so maximize it by choosing light and airy window treatments,' adds Rasides.

Nicholas Anthony
Niko Rasides

Niko Rasides is the design director of Nicholas Anthony, a family-run business founded in the UK in 1963, specializing in the design and installation of high-end, ultra-contemporary as well as classic and traditional kitchens, bathrooms and home interiors.


How can you make hosting more stress-free?

Planning is everything, especially over the holidays. Account for the unexpected, and be overprepared. 'One essential tip is meticulous planning,' Davis tells us. 'Creating a detailed checklist that includes tasks to be completed before, during, and after the event is a game-changer. This list might encompass everything from menu planning and guest accommodations to room preparation and decor. Additionally, embracing the power of delegation significantly eases the burden. Assigning specific tasks to willing friends or family members not only lightens your load but also fosters a collaborative atmosphere.'

Though it may seem overboard, it will be worth it. Davis adds how taking a less is more approach might also help take the pressure off. 'Furthermore, embracing simplicity can work wonders. Streamlining the menu, decor, and activities ensures a more manageable hosting experience. Finally, maintaining a calm and flexible mindset can mitigate stress. Despite meticulous planning, unforeseen situations may arise, and being adaptable allows for smoother navigation through any unexpected hiccups.'

Is there a wrong way to rearrange furniture for the holidays?

Remove the unnecessary but be considerate of where it goes. Stowing pieces in a garage rather than pushing them into a lonely corner might be wise to keep a positive and curated ambiance. 'Avoid pushing all furniture against the walls, as this can create a stagnant and uninviting atmosphere,' Rasides warns us.

'Instead, create intimate seating arrangements that encourage conversation and connection. I’d recommend arranging furniture in groupings to define specific functional areas within the room. Experiment with different layouts to find the one that maximizes both space and energy flow.'

Putting the comfort of guests first and considering your style of hosting is key in the holiday season. Reshuffle furniture in a way that will work in your favor and you'll create beautiful memories, with no stubbed toes or unaccounted for spilled wine

Camille Dubuis-Welch
Contributing Editor

Camille is the former deputy editor of Real Homes where she covered a broad range of topics, including house tours, small space design, and gardens. She studied English language and Italian at the University of Manchester and during a year abroad studying linguistics and history of art in Bologna, Italy she started documenting her adventures and observations in a blog. Camille is always creating and spends her downtime painting, taking photos, traveling, and writing short stories.